Captured Indian pilot freed by Pakistan in attempt to calm tensions

Sunday, 03 Mar, 2019

Pakistan handed a captured Indian pilot back to his country on Friday as the nuclear-armed neighbors scaled back their confrontation, at least temporarily.

The IAF Wing Commander returned to India from Pakistan on Friday to a hero's welcome, almost 60 hours after he was captured following a dogfight when his MiG 21 was shot down.

When an Indian fighter pilot who had been captured by Pakistan was released on Friday, it capped a humiliating episode for India and a surreal week for him.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to welcome back Wing Commander Abhinandan, a few minutes after he crossed into India through the Wagah-Attari border. "He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis", Jitender, a resident of Amritsar, who arrived here with his friends, said.

Tensions have been running high since Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir in which 40 Indian troops were killed.

One person was killed and three wounded on Pakistan's side of Kashmir from a barrage of India shelling.

Media reports said the return of Wing Cmdr Abhinandan Varthaman to India had been held up because the pilot was forced to make a video before his release.

A press statement by Pakistan's foreign ministry said Varthaman has been returned to India and that he was treated "with dignity" during his custody.

"The army personnel saved me from the mob". On February 27, Pakistan's planes attacked military targets in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are 120 MiG-21 fighter jets in India.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, said the situation remained "critical" following Varthaman's release amid concerns over how to "defuse this escalating crisis".

The Pakistani government, earlier this week, received a dossier on the Pulwama attack from the Indian government. India said earlier that Pakistani fire killed two siblings and their mother on its side.

The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack.

On the Indian side of the border, officials greeted the pilot who was in a dark blue suit, accompanied by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Authorities in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir closed all schools and educational institutions in the region and urged parents to keep their children at home amid mounting tensions. In the Express Tribune, lawyer Shahzaib Khan wrote that Pakistanis "have a reason to boast ... the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) has done Pakistan proud by not engaging in chest thumping or war-mongering for political gain". We hope that India will reciprocate our peace attempt.

"The Pakistani army is a very professional service", he said.